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Sustainable Livelihoods and Rural Development

Sustainable Livelihoods and Rural Development

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Sustainable Livelihoods and Rural Development

5/5 (1 évaluation)
311 pages
3 heures
Oct 15, 2015


The message of Sustainable Livelihoods and Rural Development is clear: livelihoods approaches are an essential lens on questions of rural development, but these need to be situated in a better understanding of political economy. The book looks at the role of social institutions and the politics of policy, as well as issues of identity, gender and generation. The relationships between sustainability and livelihoods are examined, and the book situates livelihoods analysis within a wider political economy of environmental and agrarian change. Four dimensions of a new politics of livelihoods are suggested: a politics of interests, individuals, knowledge and ecology. Together, these suggest new ways of conceptualizing rural and agrarian issues, with profound implications for both thinking and action.
Oct 15, 2015

À propos de l'auteur

Rajesh Tandon is the founder and executive director of PRIA (Society for Participatory Research in Asia), and has been an activist-scholar for the past three decades, focusing on issues such as citizenship and participatory governance, participatory research and building civil society alliances. In addition to his writing and scholarship, he has served as a civil society leader in India and internationally, including serving as a founding member and chair of CIVICUS, programme director of the Citizens and Governance Programme of the Commonwealth Foundation and chair of the Montreal International Forum (FIM). He has been active participant in the Development Research Centre on Citizenship, Participation and Accountability and served as co-convenor of the working group on globalising citizen engagements. John Gaventa is a Research Professor and Fellow in the Participation, Power and Social Change Team at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex. A political sociologist by training, he has written widely on issues of power, citizen action, participation and democracy, including the award winning Power and Powerlessness in an Appalachian Valley (1980) and Global Citizen Action (co-editor, 2001). He also has been active with a number of NGOs and civil society organisations internationally, including the Highlander Centre in the United States and Oxfam in the UK. He is the director of the Development Research Centre on Citizenship, Participation and Accountability and served as co-convenor of the working group on globalising citizen engagements.

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Sustainable Livelihoods and Rural Development - Ian Scoones

Praise for this book

This is an extraordinarily important book. It should become a classic. It is a must for every development professional. It is a masterly analysis and overview of the evolution and dimensions of the sustainable livelihoods approach, and opens up new territory of political economy, political ecology and a new politics of livelihoods. Concise yet comprehensive, combining and drawing on the perspectives of many disciplines, accessible to all readers, professionally impeccable, and on top of all this, original in its analysis and extension into new fields, this book is a wonderful contribution to development thinking and action. May it be very widely read, and may it be very influential.

—Robert Chambers, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex

In this uniquely comprehensive, lucid and valuable review of notions of sustainable livelihoods and their applications, Ian Scoones makes a potent argument for reinstating an expansive perspective on livelihoods, informed by the political economy of agrarian change, at the centre of current concerns with overcoming rural inequality and poverty.

—Henry Bernstein, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

Ian Scoones has produced a book that is in perfect balance: immensely useful, it is also challenging; theoretically perceptive, it is wonderfully readable; historically informed, it also looks forward, proposing agendas for scholars and professionals alike. Students and practitioners will find it invaluable because it places livelihood thinking in context, explores its applications, explains its limits and — perhaps most important of all — persuades the reader that being political and being practical are absolutely not mutually exclusive options in development, whether writing about it or working within it.

—Anthony Bebbington, Graduate School of Geography, Clark University and IDPM, University of Manchester

This book offers a sanguine assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of a sustainable livelihoods approach. The proposed extension of the approach builds on a political economy tradition in agrarian and development studies. Nurturing sustainable livelihoods for the poor is not just about recognizing their exceptional skill at making a living, which includes diversifying livelihoods, jumping scales and nesting home places within productive networks, but also mitigating their vulnerability to land grabs, drought and floods, natural disasters, corporate greed and venal politics.

—Simon Batterbury, University of Melbourne


Ian Scoones


Practical Action Publishing Ltd

The Schumacher Centre, Bourton on Dunsmore, Rugby, Warwickshire, CV23 9QZ, UK


First edition published by Fernwood Publishing, Canada, 2015

This edition published by Practical Action Publishing Ltd, 2015

© Ian Scoones, 2015

The right of the author to be identified as author of the work has been asserted under sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without the written permission of the publishers.

Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe.

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

A catalogue record for this book has been requested from the Library of Congress.

ISBN 978-185339-875-9 Paperback

ISBN 978-185339-874-2 Hardback

ISBN 978-178044-875-6 Ebook

ISBN 978-178044-874-9 Library PDF

Citation: Scoones, Ian (2015) Sustainable Livelihoods and Rural Development, Rugby, UK: Practical Action Publishing, <http://dx.doi.org/10.3362/9781780448749>

Since 1974, Practical Action Publishing has published and disseminated books and information in support of international development work throughout the world. Practical Action Publishing is a trading name of Practical Action Publishing Ltd (Company Reg. No. 1159018), the wholly owned publishing company of Practical Action. Practical Action Publishing trades only in support of its parent charity objectives and any profits are covenanted back to Practical Action (Charity Reg. No. 247257, Group VAT Registration No. 880 9924 76).

The views and opinions in this publication are those of the author and do not represent those of Practical Action Publishing Ltd or its parent charity Practical Action. Reasonable efforts have been made to publish reliable data and information, but the authors and publisher cannot assume responsibility for the validity of all materials or for the consequences of their use.

Cover photograph: Woman Trader in Accra's Makola Market, Ghana, by Caroline Beaumont, reproduced with permission from Transaid under a Creative Commons licence.

Cover design by John van der Woude

Printed by Standartu Spaustuve, Lithuania

Printed on FSC certificated paper


Inter-Church Organization for Development Cooperation Statement


Series Editors’ Foreword

Author's Preface

1Livelihoods Perspectives: A Brief History

Livelihoods Thinking

Sustainable Rural Livelihoods


Core Questions

2Livelihoods, Poverty and Wellbeing

Livelihood Outcomes: Conceptual Foundations

Measuring Livelihood Outcomes

Evaluating Inequality

Multidimensional Metrics and Indices

Whose Indicators Count? Participatory and Ethnographic Approaches

Poverty Dynamics and Livelihood Change

Rights, Empowerment and Inequality


3Livelihoods Frameworks and Beyond

Livelihood Contexts and Strategies

Livelihood Assets, Resources and Capitals

Livelihood Change

Politics and Power

What's in a Framework?


4Access and Control: Institutions, Organizations and Policy Processes

Institutions and Organizations

Understanding Access and Exclusion

Institutions, Practice and Agency

Difference, Recognition and Voice

Policy Processes

Unpacking the Black Box

5Livelihoods, the Environment and Sustainability

People and the Environment: A Dynamic Relationship

Resource Scarcity: Beyond Malthus

Non-Equilibrium Ecologies

Sustainability as Adaptive Practice

Livelihoods and Lifestyles

A Political Ecology of Sustainability

Sustainability Reframed: Politics and Negotiation

6Livelihoods and Political Economy

Unity of the Diverse

Class, Livelihoods and Agrarian Dynamics

States, Markets and Citizens


7Asking the Right Questions: An Extended Livelihoods Approach

Political Economy and Rural Livelihood Analysis: Six Cases

Emerging Themes


8Methods for Livelihoods Analysis

Mixed Methods: Beyond Disciplinary Silos

Operational Approaches to Livelihoods Assessment

Towards a Political Economy Analysis of Livelihoods

Challenging Biases


9Bringing Politics Back In: New Challenges for Livelihoods Perspectives

Politics of Interests

Politics of Individuals

Politics of Knowledge

Politics of Ecology

A New Politics of Livelihoods



Inter-Church Organization for Development Cooperation Statement

The Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO) has partnered with ICAS to produce the book series on Agrarian Change and Peasant Studies.

ICCO works for a just world without poverty. A world where people can claim and assume their rights in a sustainable society. Key principles are secure and sustainable livelihoods and justice and dignity for all. Sustainable agriculture and food systems are key to realizing this vision. ICCO acknowledges, together with ICAS, that the current mainstream thinking about the rural world will not lead to sustainable alternatives to agrarian systems that contribute to hunger, malnutrition, violations of right (right to food and other human rights) and unsustainable use of soils and water leading to pollution and loss of biodiversity. ICCO acknowledges that more research and exchange among scholars, practitioners and policymakers is badly needed to find answers. Answers, not just one answer. The world cannot afford anymore to simplify problems in order to develop a one size fits all solution leading to a silver bullet that tends to miss the target. We need a plurality of solutions; adapted to local contexts and that fuel the thinking of a diverse range of policymakers, activists and other actors in several sectors. We need diverse inputs form a broad range of people who suffer from hunger, who are kicked off their land and yet have ideas and energy to improve their livelihoods and realize their human rights.

What follows is a description of the type of agrarian system ICCO supports in order to contribute to the realization of its vision: ICCO promotes agriculture that locally feeds people, strives to add value locally and is environmentally sustainable. It promotes an agricultural system in which people are central and allows for self-determination, empowerment and governance of farmers themselves, but also in negotiation with consumers. This agricultural system allows male and female farmers to organize themselves according to their own needs and to make their own choices. It sustainably builds on the characteristics of the local environment (soil, water, biodiversity). We also know that agricultural systems are bound with other sectors and cannot survive in isolation: we see rural-urban (re)migration and we see trade and markets. Above all we see people living in rural settings that should be able to determine their own choices, supported by a favourable (political, social and economic) environment.

To make this happen, stable, reliable and just access to and control over productive resources such as water, land and genetic material such as seeds and tubers are essential. Related to this, but also in a broader context, ICCO supports small scale producers to be involved in decision taking about their livelihoods and works for more equal power relations in and between agricultural and other systems. The ICCO cooperative acknowledges the interrelatedness between the agricultural and food systems in the global north and south and acknowledges that these interlinkages, as well as power imbalances, need to be challenged in order to sustainably feed the world.

This type of alternative agrarian systems is knowledge intensive. We need more research that is relevant to support and stimulate the further development of this type of agricultural system and promote pro-poor agrarian change. ICCO is looking for and working towards justice, democracy and diversity in agrarian and food systems. In order to make this happen, analytical tools and framework are necessary for informed collective actions and advocacy work. It is in this context that we find the book series of great importance to ICCO and its partners worldwide and to broader audiences.

— Inter-Church Organization for Development Cooperation

Utrecht, The Netherlands

February 2015


This book relies on the insights of and conversations with many people over a long period. It would be impossible to acknowledge them all. Robert Chambers and Gordon Conway inspired me to engage with livelihoods thinking in the 1980s during and after my MSc and PhD studies, while Jeremy Swift led the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) project in which the 1998 framework crystallized. That politics and institutions mattered became clear through projects on environmental entitlements and policy processes under the aegis of the then Environment Group at IDS, with colleagues including Melissa Leach, Robin Mearns, James Keeley and Will Wolmer. Questions of local knowledge and citizen participation were central to our collective work on farmer first, beyond and revisited, with John Thompson and others. Linking livelihoods and development issues with the politics of sustainability has been at the core of the work of the ESRC STEPS Centre at Sussex. I have had the privilege to help lead this research, together with Melissa Leach and Andy Stirling, over the past decade. Engagement with a wider debate on agrarian political economy has been catalyzed by work on land and green grabbing in recent years. This has involved many colleagues from around the world, including those associated with the Land Deal Politics Initiative, the Journal of Peasant Studies and the Future Agricultures Consortium.

Thus, it is my engagement over three decades in numerous projects and with a multitude of colleagues, students and research partners in different parts of the world that has informed, challenged and educated me. But my greatest debt is owed to those people living in rural areas who have worked with me over the years, and perhaps especially those in southern Zimbabwe, where I have worked for nearly thirty years on land, agriculture and rural development issues. They are a constant reminder that livelihoods are complex, diverse and above all political. My field research partners in Zimbabwe, B.Z. Mavedzenge and Felix Murimbarimba, have been especially influential in my thinking.

The writing of the book was made possible by workpoint surpluses generated by overwork at IDS, and by the reallocation of some of these as part of a sabbatical scheme during 2013–14. During this period, I tested out some of the arguments in lectures at the College of Humanities and Development, China Agriculture University, Beijing; the Department of Geography at the University of Ghana at Legon, Accra; and the IDS at Sussex. Feedback from the discussions that followed has been immensely useful, as have been the reviews by Simon Batterbury, Henry Bernstein, Tony Bebbington, Robert Chambers and Martin Greeley.

Finally, I would like to thank Nicole McMurray for helping with the formatting of the manuscript, and Jun Borras for persistently but politely reminding me over several years that the book was overdue.

Series Editors’ Foreword

Sustainable Livelihoods and Rural Development by Ian Scoones is the fourth volume in the Agrarian Change and Peasant Studies Series from ICAS (Initiatives in Critical Agrarian Studies). The first volume is Henry Bernstein's Class Dynamics of Agrarian Change, followed by Jan Douwe van der Ploeg's Peasants and the Art of Farming and Philip McMichael's Food Regimes and Agrarian Questions. Together, these four world-class books reaffirm the strategic importance and relevance of applying agrarian political economy analytical lenses in agrarian studies today. They ensure that succeeding volumes in the series will be just as politically relevant and scientifically rigorous.

A brief explanation of the series will help put into perspective Ian Scoones’ current volume in relation to the ICAS intellectual and political project.

Today, global poverty remains a significantly rural phenomenon, with rural populations comprising three-quarters of the world's poor. Thus, the problem of global poverty and the multidimensional (economic, political, social, cultural, gender, environmental and so on) challenge of ending it are closely linked to rural working people's resistance to the system that continues to generate and reproduce the conditions of rural poverty and their struggles for sustainable livelihoods. A focus on rural development thus remains critical to development thinking. However, this focus does not mean de-linking rural from urban issues. The challenge is to better understand the linkages between them, partly because the pathways out of rural poverty paved by neoliberal policies and the war on global poverty engaged in and led by mainstream international financial and development institutions to a large extent simply replace rural with urban forms of poverty.

Mainstream approaches in agrarian studies are generously financed and thus have been able to dominate the production and publication of research and studies on agrarian issues. Many of the institutions (such as the World Bank) that promote this thinking have also been able to acquire skills in producing and propagating highly accessible and policy-oriented publications that are widely disseminated worldwide. Critical thinkers in leading academic institutions are able to, and do, challenge this mainstream approach, but they are generally confined to academic circles with limited popular reach and impact.

There remains a significant gap in meeting the needs of academics (teachers, scholars and students), social movement activists and development practitioners in the global South and the North for scientifically rigorous yet accessible, politically relevant, policy-oriented and affordable books in critical agrarian studies. In response to this need, ICAS — in partnership with the Dutch development agency Inter-Church Organization for Development Cooperation, or ICCO-Cooperation — is launching this series. The idea is to publish state of the art small books that will explain a specific development issue based on key questions, including: What are the current issues and debates in this particular topic and who are the key scholars/thinkers and actual policy practitioners? How have such positions developed over time? What are the possible future trajectories? What are the key reference materials? And why and how is it important for NGO professionals, social movement activities, official development aid circles and nongovernmental donor agencies, students, academics, researchers and policy experts to critically engage with the key points explained in the book? Each book will combine theoretical and policy-oriented discussion with empirical examples from different national and local settings.

The series will be available in multiple languages in addition to English, starting with Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, Bahasa, and Thai. The Chinese edition is in partnership with the College of Humanities and Development of the China Agricultural University in Beijing, coordinated by Ye Jingzhong; the Spanish edition with the PhD Programme in Development Studies at the Autonomous University of Zacatecas in Mexico, coordinated by Raúl Delgado Wise, HEGOA Institute (Basque Public University), coordinated by Gonzalo Fernandes, and EHNE Bizkaia, coordinated by Xarles Iturbe, both in the Basque country; the Portuguese edition with the Universidade Estadual Paulista, Presidente Prudente (UNESP) in Brazil, coordinated by Bernardo Mançano Fernandes, and the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS) in Brazil, coordinated by Sergio Schneider; the Bahasa edition with University of Gadjah Mada in Indonesia, coordinated by Laksmi Savitri; and the Thai edition with RCSD of University of Chiang Mai, coordinated by Chayan Vaddhanaphuti.

Given the context for and objectives of the Agrarian Change and Peasant Studies Series, one can easily understand why we are very pleased and honoured to have as Book 4 Ian Scoones’ work on sustainable livelihoods and rural development. Together, the first four volumes are a perfect fit in terms of theme, accessibility, relevance and rigour. We are excited about the bright future of this important series!

— Saturnino M. Borras Jr., Max Spoor and Henry Veltmeyer

ICAS Book Series Editors

March 2015

Other titles in the Agrarian Change and Peasant Studies series

Class Dynamics of Agrarian Change, by Henry Bernstein

Peasants and the Art of Farming by Jan Douwe van der Ploeg

Food Regimes and Agrarian Questions by Philip McMichael

Author's Preface

This short book was remarkably difficult to write. The challenge lay partly in the length requirement: it had to be short, and so much had to be said in a limited number of words; partly in the complex and fast-evolving subject material with huge numbers of sources in both the formal and grey literature to engage with; and partly in the mix of distance from

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